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Giving healthy feedback to your child

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY WACUI MAKORI

Every human being needs feedback – be it
positive or negative. The delivery of this feedback needs to be tampered so
that it does not destroy or demoralise an individual. Yet despite this, when it
comes to our children, it somehow seems easier for parents to criticise than
praise. Children tend to hear more negative comments about themselves and or
their behaviour as opposed to positive comments.

Yet as counselling psychologist Joseph
Nginya notes, “Children desperately need to know that their efforts and
behaviours are noticed, approved of and appreciated”. He, however, notes that
while it is important to praise your child and that this needs to be done often
and consistently, the praise offered needs to be equally balanced out with
healthy criticism if the child is to grow up as a well-rounded individual.

According to Nginya, there are specific
ways to deliver feedback that a parent can adhere to if they hope to get the
message across. “When it comes to negative feedback,” he says, “do not attack
the child; focus on the issue or the mistake committed.” Nginya notes that
negative feedback often fails because many times, a parent becomes emotional in
their feedback delivery. Giving a practical example, he notes that calling a
child useless because they did not follow your instructions for a specific
errand you have assigned them is counter-productive. Instead, such a child
needs to be told why they need to follow your instructions and made to
understand that your anger and disappointment is because of their actions and
not because of them as individuals.

When it comes to positive feedback or
praise, Nginya notes that there are three aspects a parent needs to observe:

  • The first is that
    praise needs to be honest. "There is a very thin line between honesty and
    flattery," he says, "and as your child grows older, they will learn
    to identify the difference and will not appreciate your dishonesty."
    Honest praise is based on facts e.g. their performance and adherence to laid
    down value or belief systems.
  • The second is that
    praise needs to be in line with reality. "By your words and actions,"
    Nginya says, "do not build your children up to think that they are
    invincible, making them puffed up and unable to relate with other people. This
    is especially so when what is being praised is not of the child's doing e.g.
    physical attributes or talents.”

    
Nginya notes that focusing endlessly on these attributes, even seeming to show
favouritism because of them does more harm than good to the child while ignoring
them is not the answer either. "Acknowledge these gifts," he says,
"let your child know they are blessed, but teach them how to handle
themselves in ways that endear them to others."

  • The third is that
    praise should always be projective. "Knowing the values you want to instill
    in your child for their future benefit will guide a parent in knowing what to
    praise and how to praise it," says Nginya. If for example you want your
    child to learn the importance of courtesy and respect, you will praise them
    every time they use courtesy words like please, thank you etc. By zeroing in on
    how your child makes another person feel each time they use these words, you
    are able to reinforce values that will stay with them for a life time.

Ultimately, since children learn by
imitation, as they see their parents being positive, appreciative people
capable of giving feedback in sensitive ways, the child will learn to emulate
these habits and go on to become affable people capable of fitting into any
social setting.